In the previous post I mentioned that Al’s bar was smoky. The world was smoky back then. It’s hard to imagine if you are too young to have lived through it. Watch ‘Mad Men’ to get a sense of it. But most people can remember the smoky rooms. Everyone smoked everywhere. People lived in a smoky haze. I’m not exaggerating. Bars were the worst. That’s why people wore such strong cologne and perfume back then, to compete with the stink of cigarette smoke. I remember the first time I walked into a bar after the smoking ban was enacted. My God…is that…air freshener…I smell?
It was bad at work, too. We have a small break room. At lunch you could not see across it. Everyone had a cigarette lit. Leonard L., a press operator, even kept one lit while he ate. It would hang out of the corner of his mouth while he chewed, and he’d pause between swallows to inhale. He also would light one cigarette off the end of his previous one before he put it out. He went through over 2 packs a night, plus however many he smoked at home. Unbelievable. But not unlikely. I went through between a pack and a pack and a half a day. I’d periodically stop at my machine to light up. If I had grease on my fingers it would soak into the cigarette and give it a terrible tang, yuck, but I’d smoke it anyway. Or if I wanted to smoke a cigarette undisturbed I’d go off and talk to someone. I’m sure my production has improved drastically since I quit smoking. And that brings me to the people who claimed they were trying to quit. All they quit was buying. They’d bum cigarettes off you all night long.
The shop was a different matter. It is big and airy, with thirty-foot ceilings, a big warehouse of a building. So cigarette smoke didn’t amount to much. But there were other kinds of smoke. It would fill up with welding smoke if several welders got busy at the same time. Also, smoke from a hot turn-up could really spread. We flange steel up to an inch and a half thick. In order to bend such a thickness, it is heated in a furnace to over 2000 degrees F. Which bakes all the grease out of the metal. So when it is flanged grease is liberally applied to the surface. Which through sublimation immediately transformed from a solid into a gas and billowed out in a fast-spreading noxious cloud as the head spun. Also, fresh acid is mixed in the pickle tank periodically. Although not smoke, the gas released into the air is nasty. I have helped out in the pickle room on occasion. Once I got a lung-full of the stuff, and it burned. Also, clouds of carbon dust would arise when flanger operators turned on their air lines, which they did in order to keep metal shavings and other grit from getting crushed into the metal by the icr roll, while a carbon steel head was spinning. And the shop is located in a low-lying area, what had previously been a wetland, so mosquitoes were bad. Especially on second shift. To combat them, we would soak greasy rags in solvent and pile them up by our machines and light them. You’d see small fires on the floor producing thick black smoke all through the shop.
Since then, some powerful ventilation fans have been installed. That helps a lot. Also, a smoking ban was enacted at work several years ago. That has been a gradual process. At first people ignored it and continued smoking in the break room and out on the shop floor. But the company kept on them, and eventually they moved to outside the door. Then cameras were installed, and they could no longer smoke even there, they had to move out to a designated area all the way across the parking lot. The company has been insistent, but supportive. They have paid for nicotine patches or nicotine gum or whatever remedies smokers have wanted to try in order to quit.
Conditions at work other than air quality have also improved over the years. I hope to show this with my posts. If the me who was hired in 1973 walked into the shop as it is today in 2015 I wouldn’t recognize the place. It happens gradually, so you don’t notice, but over the decades there has been vast improvement.